Kelsey: Spring break. Is this real life?!

September 17, 2011

WARNING: THIS POST IS VERY LONG. GET A SNACK BEFORE READING. Our “spring break” (if you said that out loud around other kiwi students they would laugh, it’s just “school break” or “holiday”) was from August 26- September 5. Two of my roommates and I decided that instead of heading off to a tropical island that we would stay and try and explore as much of the South Island as we could. On Sunday the 28th we got on a bus at 1:30p and headed to Te Anau for the night and stayed at the YHA Backpackers. We didn’t get to see much of Te Anau before the sun went down over the mountains but what we did see that night was absolutely beautiful. The night in the hostel we just relaxed and watched some free movies (it was SUCH a nice hostel!) before our big week.

Monday morning we woke up bright and early, packed all of our things for the week into our backpacking packs (I have the Gregory Jade 38, thanks to my brother!) and headed to the DOC  (Department of Conservation) office in order to turn in our intention forms (these forms show where we are supposed to be on what days and if it came to it, what day that we would like to be searched for if we hadn’t been heard from yet). We were planning on doing the Kepler Track but it turns out, one of the passages was in an avalanche zone so we were very strongly discouraged to complete the entire track. Since we are stubborn and had planned to be gone for 3 days we decided to do only half of the track (Day 1= Control Gates to Motorau Hut, Day 2= Motorau hut to Iris Burn Hut and Day 3= Iris Burn Hut to Rainbow Reach road and hitchhike back to town). The first day wasn’t very sunny, but not that we would have known if it was because most of the hike was in very dense forest. By the time our 4-5 hour hike was coming to a close we were very excited to see the giant hut and the beach with a beautiful lake and mountains in the background. We tried to spend some time on the beach but thesandflys (you think mosquitos are bad? Meet these tiny devils…) were absolutely horrible so we decided to change into some dry clothing and start the fire. Well the fire proved to be very stubborn so while me and Laura messed with it for a while we started dinner which consisted of dry soup mix with noodles in it to get ome good carbs for another long day of hiking. We spent the rest of the night playing cards by candle and flashlight until it was time to head to bed.
Tuesday we got a good start at around 10am after taking a few silly pictures by the lake because it was SO beautiful. It was another day spent in dense forest with more ferns than I ever want to see again in my entire lifetime. Towards the end we did get to see some beautiful sights in the background before our last homestretch spent in the woods. We got to the Iris Burn Hut around 4pm and we sat for maybe 10 min before we realized that there was no running water and that we needed to chop down more firewood if we wanted to stay relatively warm that night. After walking into the woods with an ax and feeling very much like a lumberjack, we had gathered enough wood for us and for the next visitors to the hut. We then gathered all of the water vessels that we could muster up between all three of us and headed down the marshy track to the river and gathered as much water as we could. Since in New Zealand, most of the water comes straight off of the snow from the mountains, water filters are very rarely needed so we literally drank straight from the river! We started fighting with the fire again but this one proved to be even more stubborn than the fire at the last hut so we eventually gave up and just put more layers on while making another dinner full of soup and noodles. Finally we saw another person on the trail and she just happened to be going to University of Otago also and is from Chicago! What a small world. She joined in our nightly crazy card games which we played until we couldn’t stay awake anymore.
Wednesday we woke up to hearing the sound of rain pounding on the tin roof outside. We waited a bit to see if it would clear but we didn’t have much time to wait because we had a 8 hour hike in front of us. To prove our luck, it didn’t stop raining before we had to leave so we gathered up all of our rain gear and headed back out the same way that we came just hours before. It turned out to rain the ENTIRE TIME so we got a bit cranky. There was one highlight of the way back (at least for me) when we decided to take a trail that was supposedly closed (the alternative, we found out from the day before, was a very steep uphill followed by a very steep downhill which isn’t good at all on my knees that were already hurting bad) but it didn’t say why it was closed, so being adventurous we took it anyways. It was pretty easy most of the way, with just a few small slips but nothing we couldn’t handle in our need-to-get-home-now kind of mood. There was one point where there was a pretty large slip that involved shimming down logs and then climbing up rocks and fallen trees in order to find the path again. Good thing we could tell that others were just as adventurous as we were because there were pretty decent footholds already pointed out for us. The rest of the time we got crankier as we kept walking because it didn’t stop raining and we were getting worried that we wouldn’t make it to the road before it got dark. At one point we were practically fast walking through all of the pain and all of the broken down trees just to make sure we could make it in time. We finally got to the road and it was pouring rain down on us, and here were 4 girls drenched in water with 30lb packs (which were also soaked) and mud all over our boots and pants sticking out our thumbs on the side of a not-so-busy highway. Recipe for disaster you’re asking? Turns out some very nice man actually stopped for us and let us completely soak the inside of his car and drove us all the way to our hostel! We spent the rest of the night taking hot showers and layering up while watching TV before we could no longer walk upstairs to get to our bed and fall asleep for a good 10 hours.
Thursday put our packs back on for a very short amount of time to catch a bus to Queenstown. We were all pretty tired and sore so the bus ride was pretty quiet. We got to Queenstown airport and picked up our RENTAL CAR. Yes, we decided to sit behind the wheel on the right side of the car to drive on the left side of the road! Of course, I was the first behind the wheel and of course we wanted to go back into town to make sure we stop at the famous Fergburger so parking was very interesting. After our freaking delicious burgers/sandwiches (I had the “Cockadoodle Doo”) we started our 4.5 hour trip to Fox Glacier. I drove for about 2.5 hours before switching over to Laura. Along the way we saw some of the most beautiful scenery possible and it was very hard to concentrate on driving because the views were so amazing. We finally arrived in Fox Glacier later than evening and found the only restaurant in the town (it was freaking TINY) and sat down for some dinner. We were planning on just staying in our little rental car for the night but after our long days of hiking and the fact that it was much colder than we originally thought, we decided to frantically drive around the tiny town and find a hostel to stay in. We just so happened to stay in a hostel that had both a sauna AND a hot tub! Naturally, the second we dropped our bags in our room we (quite literally) ran to the hot tub and jumped in. We met some other people who were staying in the hostel before getting out, taking a quick shower and heading to bed in a clean, heated room!
Friday we got up early once again and headed to join with a tour guide to walk on Fox Glacier. We got all of our gear, which included a giant rain jacket, some extremely clunky leather boots and some crampons (metal spikes that are tied onto our clunky boots for when we walk on the ice). We walked past the line where only tour groups can pass and we eventually made our way onto the ice. We got to walk around for a bit with our guide stopping every once in a while to tell us some information about the glacier and history of it. At one point she let us go into this ice cave that was carved out by water a while ago and got to take some pretty cool pictures. Towards the end of our tour we were starting to get a bit cranky again because despite the thickness of the ugly boots and the rain jacket, standing on ice for 3 hours is not the warmest situation to be in, especially when you’re hungry! We soon headed back into town and stopped at the Dairy (they call convenient stores a “dairy” here) to get some bread and jam for the road and headed on the road again. We broke the drive up between the three of us and I ended up doing the stretch that was the hilliest, which was fine with me because it kind of felt like a rollercoaster! That’s another thing to note about New Zealand, there are no flat or straight roads! We made it home safely around 830p, much earlier than our ETA!

And that concludes the craziness of my spring holiday! After that week it will definitely be very difficult to leave this country. There is honestly not a place in this country that isn’t absolutely beautiful beyond words. Almost every other minute one of us was saying out loud “is this real life? This place is amazing!”

I’m trying to talk everyone into just coming to live with me here, is that so wrong? I LOVE NEW ZEALAND!

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